CDs and cassettes are quickly going out of style, but vinyl sales have skyrocketed. Resurgence in this music format seems at odds with the simultaneous explosion in streaming service popularity, but vinyl holds a special place in the hearts of music enthusiasts and represents a nostalgic artifact from the twentieth century. The combination of renewed interest and supply chain issues resulting from the pandemic has led to demand far exceeding supply. As a result, major artists have a monopoly on vinyl supplies, resulting in limited opportunities for smaller artists.
Adele’s release of her fourth album 30, another blockbuster record for the artist, depicts the current chaotic state of physical sales. The fourth quarter of 2021 has been headlined by major musicians such as Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, ABBA, and Coldplay, who have all previously excelled outside of just streaming. Add in Adele’s album, which follows one of the best–selling albums in history, and you have the perfect recipe for disaster. In order to line up the digital and physical releases of the album, Adele had to complete and turn in her finished album six months prior, which is much longer than usual. This waiting period can be as long as eight to nine months for everyone no matter their stardom, but Adele’s fame is too much for factories to handle. Smaller artists have constantly faced delays for their vinyl pressing due to big artists releasing music and a demand for legacy acts such as Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours.
Even Adele’s peers have found trouble with record pressing. When rumors of Adele’s comeback first surfaced, Sheeran rushed to complete his album. For his release date of = in October, Sheeran was able to turn in his album just three months earlier in July—advancing past the set deadline because of his stronger presence in the industry. Still, the artist complained of the delays. In a radio interview, Sheeran lamented that there are only “three vinyl factories in the world” and that “Adele had basically booked out all the vinyl factories.” Even though there are multiple vinyl factories in the United States alone, Sheeran is talking about the plants producing the lacquer disc, which serves as the foundation for the vinyl.
A fire in 2020 before the pandemic destroyed Apollo Masters Corp. in California. Now only one factory producing lacquer discs remains. Swift faced similar issues for her re–recordings. She holds the records for selling the most vinyl in a week for evermore and Fearless (Taylor’s Version) before breaking it again with Red (Taylor’s Version). But for the first two, the vinyl was released months later than the albums themselves. The 4xLP vinyl for Red (Taylor’s Version) was released simultaneously, but fans speculated that it was rushed since black was the only color available—a missed opportunity for an artist known for her meticulous attention to detail.
But these challenges pale in comparison to smaller artists. Many smaller label companies mentioned their clientele pushed away in favor of Adele. Artists such as the duo Damon & Naomi decided not to release a pressing for their LP A Sky Record due to the excessive turnaround time. Physical sales can boost revenue due to low payout from streaming services, so with the absence of records, small artists lose an important stream of revenue. Even with dedicated factories for indie labels, demand is too high and some materials too scarce that the crisis is still playing a major impact on album releases.
In 2021, vinyl sales are projected to approach almost $1 billion, over $300 million more than 2020 and approaching levels not seen since the 1980s. More artists are cashing in on the vinyl craze, including Rihanna who recently announced vinyl releases for her entire discography. However, there remains a wide gap between major pop stars and smaller, independent musicians. Privileges afforded to the most successful prevent smaller artists from also benefitting from vinyl. Until these issues are resolved, the vinyl resurgence will only exist for established acts.